Are Kraken willing to absorb risk on Price amid new questions about health?

Chris Johnston joined Sportsnet Central to discuss whether or not Carey Price will be selected by the Kraken, and other players that were left unprotected by their club teams that could be of interest to Seattle.

MONTREAL — This track has more turns in it than le Circuit de la Sarthe at Le Mans, and the next hairpin could be coming up before you’ve finished reading this sentence. So, consider that as you sift through the rest of this piece about where things stand with Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Kraken.

A lot has developed since Price waived his no-movement clause and was left unprotected on the list the Canadiens submitted to the NHL on Sunday for Wednesday’s upcoming expansion draft. Reports surfaced later in the day that Price’s end-of-season medical report revealed hip and knee issues that will be explored by a specialist this week and that the potential for him to miss a significant portion of next season — or perhaps all of it — is real but might not be clarified before Friday.

With that, a complicated decision for the Kraken got significantly more complex and, based on what we’ve been told, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is just fine with that — even if he’s gone radio silent.

Sources say he has no desire to lose Price, regardless of the soon-to-be 34-year-old’s injury status, the $44.25 million he needs to be paid and the $10.5-million cap hit he’ll carry for each of the next five seasons.

But Bergevin won’t confirm that because he has no intention of allowing himself to get bullied into giving the Kraken assets to keep Price protected. As I qualified it Saturday, the Montreal GM made a big gamble, but a calculated one, and now it’s clear his knowledge of Price’s injury status was part of that assessment.

He’s made his play, shifted the onus back on the Kraken and forced them to decide if they want to take on even more risk than they appeared to be willing to upon learning Price was available.

Still, sources informed us Sunday that even prior to the afternoon’s developments, the conversation among GM Ron Francis and Seattle’s ownership group was framed as, “Can we really turn away from him?” as opposed to, “We really want to take him.”

There are reasons to not — from the quality and value other available goaltenders present, to Price’s wildly inconsistent play over the last four regular seasons and his bloated contract only naturally depreciating in value with every passing day but still taking up close to 13 per cent of the fixed $81.5-million upper limit for the coming years — and they were being discussed by the Kraken at length. As was Price’s extensive injury history, which already presented the greatest risk in selecting him.

But sources say their group was still leaning toward doing it before this curveball came down the pike later on Sunday.

Of all the high-profile talent made available to the Kraken by the rest of the NHL (Vegas Golden Knights excluded) — Vladimir Tarasenko, Mark Giordano, Gabriel Landeskog headline an extensive list — they know no one could better serve as the face of the franchise than Price. The Anahim Lake, B.C., native, who just brought the Canadiens to within three wins of their first Stanley Cup in 28 years, has marketing pull that would easily offset the money owed to him on his contract and the sense was that, with what is shaping up to be a pretty good team in front Price, he could still perform well enough to live up to the lofty expectations that would come with selecting him and making him their franchise player.

Now, Price’s uncertain injury situation has brought on considerably more risk than the Kraken might be willing to take — even if they’re putting out a different vibe at present.

Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli reported Monday — as a follow to the news he broke regarding Price’s hip and knee issues — Francis has been authorized by ownership to select Price if he so chooses, even if he doesn’t gain any clarity on the star goalie's availability for the upcoming season between now and submitting his list to the NHL on Wednesday morning. Consider this the Kraken shifting into fifth gear as they race their car toward collision in this game of chicken with the Canadiens.

They’re preserving Francis’s leverage to squeeze an extra asset out of Bergevin to not choose Price, and it’ll be up to Bergevin to decide if he wants to hit the brakes and concede or just keep pressing down on the gas pedal.

Whatever happens, we won’t have to wait much longer to see how this shakes out.

But given how much has already transpired over the past 48 hours, we’d imagine more twists and turns are coming.

Protected list

Forwards

Josh Anderson, Joel Armia, Jake Evans, Brendan Gallagher, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Artturi Lehkonen, Tyler Toffoli.

Defence

Ben Chiarot, Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry.

Goalie

Jake Allen.

Possible Seattle targets (other than Price)

Shea Weber

Multiple injuries to the 35-year-old captain of the Canadiens have reportedly put his playing career in jeopardy.

He carries a $7.85-million cap hit for each of the next five seasons, which could be placed on long-term injury reserve and give the Kraken the flexibility to exceed the cap by that amount if they spend to it in assembling their team.

It’s a longshot they’d want to do it, but that is still an asset. And if Weber attempts to make a comeback further down the line, he’d be an asset, too.

That Weber’s already been paid $98 million of his $110-million contract that expires in 2026 doesn’t hurt.

Jonathan Drouin

The talented 26-year-old was placed on LTIR for personal reasons after appearing in 44 games this past season. He faces an uncertain playing future, but should he decide to return, he could be a compelling grab — even at $5.5 million on the cap over each of the next two seasons.

Should Drouin not return, he’ll likely still qualify for LTIR.

Brett Kulak

He’s a 27-year-old defenceman with one year remaining on a contract that only counts for $1.85 million on the cap and he’s proven to be quite versatile in his three seasons with the Canadiens.

Kulak also seems like a player who would flourish in a bigger role. He’s only been used at even strength in Montreal, but could prove capable on the penalty kill or the power play. Seattle might be the place for him to show it, and they could always flip him somewhere at the trade deadline for a decent haul, considering he’s a pending unrestricted free agent.

Cale Fleury

He’s who we’d take — even with Price, Weber, Drouin, unrestricted free agent Phillip Danault and Paul Byron available. He’s a 22-year-old right-hander who moves the puck well and has a real physical edge to him, and he’s NHL-ready.

That Fleury already has 41 games of NHL experience under his belt and is just coming out of his entry-level contract presents the upside any expansion team should covet.

Salary cap outlook

The Canadiens have just over $67 million committed to a near-complete roster for the 2021-22 season. They’d like to keep unrestricted free agents Danault and Joel Armia, but not at any cost. They’d also like to keep Corey Perry and could likely find a reasonable compromise with his agent to do so.

Tomas Tatar, Eric Staal, Erik Gustafsson and Jon Merrill are likely not returning with the Canadiens.

Restricted free agents Kotkanieimi, Lehkonen, Fleury, Otto Leskinen and Ryan Poehling need new contracts, but the cost isn’t anticipated to be prohibitive for any of them.

Meanwhile, the LTIR designations for both Drouin and Weber would enable the Canadiens to exceed the cap by close to $14 million if they remain in Montreal (and if the Canadiens spend all the way to the cap).

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